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Pakistan Civilian-Military Relations

According to an apocryphal story, immediately after General Pervez Musharraf launched his infamous Kargil offensive, the Indian Prime Minister contacted Mr. Nawaz Sharif, then Prime Minister of Pakistan.

“Mian Sahib” asked the Indian PM, “What are you doing to us? Why has your army launched an offensive in Kargil?”

“Let me ask my generals and then I will get back to you,” replied Nawaz Sharif

“That is the difference between you and us, Mian sahib; we don’t ask our generals, they ask us before they do anything” is said to have been the Indian PM’s reply.

This story, often repeated in the streets of Pakistan, is also a sort of popular self-awareness of how things stand in Pakistan when it comes to civil-military relationships.

In the military circles, of which I was a part for fourteen years of my life, the civilian administration is always seen as corrupt and inefficient. This view is, of course, partially true especially if one compares the two systems without incorporating their attendant peculiarities. It is easy to be professional and efficient in the military: everyone is trained to do their job and there is an established hierarchy of rank structure buttressed by an uninterrupted history of functionality as an institution. Furthermore, the military leaders only have to deal with highly indoctrinated troops who, being soldiers, have no right to any kind of free will or civic rights. It is easy to command and manage a captive audience.

Our civilian systems, however, neither have a continuous history of functionality nor do they comprise a system in which the hierarchy is clearly established and articulated. Because of various martial laws and other military interventions neither the people nor the so-called leaders have truly learned the ethics and politics of public political life. Resultantly, most of our politicians see their offices as a path to self-agrrandization and have no qualms about using their influence to enrich themselves. Since the system is unstable, the politicians’ psyche is connected to short-term goals. So, instead of refining their message and streamlining a long-term, people-oriented politics, our politicians are more focused on the short-term goals. If the threat of military take-overs had been eliminated, just like the Indians did, then over the last sixty years we would have also developed a more responsive and transparent system of politics and governance.

Pakistan is also still burdened with a medieval system of production in which the large landholders still rely on captive labor to continue reproducing the inequalities that we inherited at the time of the partition. How is the army to blame for this? Quite simply, one look at who did the military mobilize during their regimes will be a good answer: Ayub Khan relied on some heavy weights of Pakistani feudality and Zia-ul-Haq, despite his pseudo-Islamic policies, also worked through the same ”notables” in all regions of Pakistan. Mr. Musharraf, notwithstanding his pronounced liberalism, also worked with cahudries of Gujraat and other such parasites to keep his regime functional. In the entire thirty or so years of the aggregated military rule, not even one of them even hinted at land reforms or tried to disrupt this unjust, unequal system of wealth distribution. In fact, by supporting the zamindars and the waderas, the military has provided them new inroads into the nation’s politics: pretty much all major parties now field feudal candidates from the rural heart of Pakistan, candidates who are basically there to safeguard their own interests and to maintain the status quo.

It is often declared that without the army, Pakistan will disintegrate as a nation. Maybe, that is partially true as a functional national government does need a strong and established armed force to maintain order within its borders, to provide emergency relief, and to also safeguard against foreign aggression. But a deeper look at our system suggests that military itself has become the main cause of Pakistan’s instability and bleak future. This isn’t something new; one look at human history is enough to prove that eventually it is always the high military expenditure that brings nations and empires down. At the height of its power, the Roman Empire relied heavily on the Roman legions for the expansion of empire. But in the end the legions themselves became too expansive to maintain and thus became the cause of the failure of empire. Same happed to the Soviet Union. We are headed the same way. We all know that we cannot afford to spend so much on the military but we must, as our politicians neither have the courage nor the popular support to reign in the military elite.

The civil military relationships in Pakistan, therefore, are a symptom of a nation gone wrong, a nation in which people are still living in squalor while their leaders and their generals live like kings.

It is quite obvious that our politicians are mostly corrupt and probably do not care about the people, but part of this apathy is systemic: if the politicians are in it for the short term and do not have to worry about their long term obligations to their constituents, then the system does not force them to become more receptive to popular demands. The generals, on the other hand, have no reason to pander to the people especially if they can continuously rely on popular distrust of the politicians and a constant invocation of outside threats. The result of this military civilian symbiotic relationship is that Pakistan has increasingly become a dysfunctional state in which might is right and the only way to make ourselves look better is to keep deriding other nations.

Rise of Islamic fundamentalism is a direct result of, among other things, the unequal and unjust society that the army and the politicians have constructed over the years. Think of it this way: if you feel powerless and silenced with no recourse to a functional justice system or a vibrant social system, then you will sign up with anyone who promises to literally restructure the entire socio-economic edifice. The left in Pakistan has never been able to promise such an upheaval: in fact, the Pakistani left, whatever is left of it, has itself become an elitist pursuit by some real and mostly pseudo intellectuals whose political alignment is mostly with the feudal or industrial bourgeoisie. In such a scenario, only the most fundamentalist mullahs can mobilize the people as they can, at the end of the day, at least promise revolutionary change.

In wake of the recent Memogate scandal and other national debacles, it has become evident that the interest of the army and those of our politically elected leaders are on a divergent course. Yes, we need the armed forces: at least, they provide employment for hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis directly and indirectly. But we need an army that knows that it is one tool in the hands of popularly elected governments, an army that enables Pakistan to become a viable, pluralistic democracy.

Our politicians also need to learn that they are servants of their people and unless they internalize this core principle, they will continue the inane and self-serving politics that has now made them a joke in the region as well as in the world.

If the present government finishes its term, ineffective as it maybe as a government, it will be the first popularly elected government to do so in my entire lifetime. So, yes, their corruption and failure notwithstanding, let us aid and help this government so that we can have another and yet another popularly elected government. A functioning system of politics is the only way for Pakistan to become a viable nation and for that to happen, the Pakistan army will have to learn to think of itself as an instrument of Pakistani state and the generals will have to learn to be servants of their people: Yes, the very people whose poverty and suffering underwrites the privileges that our generals enjoy as their rights.

(Also published by Viewpoint Online)

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Pakistan Army: The Fog of War Argument Won’t Do

Since the recent killing of Pakistani soldiers by NATO, the Pakistani political leadership and Pakistani people have entered a sort of crisis overdrive mode.

English: Pakistan Army Logo
Image via Wikipedia

Thankfully, this time the people and politicians are not just railing about the US and NATO. Quite a few hard questions are also being asked of the Pakistan army senior leadership, the kinds of questions that should always be posed to military leaders in a living democracy.

One question that has now become a sort of proverbial albatross around the army’s neck is this: “Why did the army not mobilize Pakistan airforce to support the ground troops who were under attack? An apt question, I must say, of an organization that takes the lion’s share of Pakistan’s meager GDP every year.

The answer, says the army, “we were confused!”

Yes, seriously this is the answer being provided by the army leadership. According to an AP report published also by Dawn:

A Pakistani military statement on Friday said the response could have been more ”effective” if the airforce had been called in, but this was not possible because of a ”breakdown of communication” and confusion at ”various levels” within the organisation.

So basically, this is a roundabout way of saying that we were so inept that even when our troops were dying, we failed miserably in coordinating any countermeasures at the highest levels of military leadership. There is a pattern to this argument and it also has its own history: Kargil, OBL raid, and now this tragic event. So the senior leadership cannot admit that they COULD not aid their troops while they were being killed because their internal communication systems, somehow failed. But the same leaders had functioning communication systems to literally  “PLEAD” to NATO to stop killing their soldiers. So, is PLEADING the highest level of military strategy our over indulged generals can come up with?

The communications failure argument is fallacious on many accounts. First of all there are layered forms of communications available. There is a whole, well-funded, Joint Chiefs of Staff headquarters with the sole job of coordinating interservice communication. If they failed, how many of them are willing to resign for letting down their troops?

On tactical level, such breakdown is not possible. Her  is how it goes: a post is under attack; the post commander informs the battalion headquarters (they have both wireless and field telephones to do so); the battalion headquarters launches its own countermeasures and also informs the Brigade Headquarters; then to Divisional and Corp headquarters. It should have not taken more than fifteen minutes for the news to reach the General headquarters, Director general Military Operations. From there, it is a question of reaching out to the airforce. Now if the DG military Operations was busy “pleading” to NATO, someone else could have contacted the airforce and asked them to, at least, pose a challenge to the attackers in support of their troops. Of course, I am not suggesting that the Pakistan Airforce should have launched a counterstrike, but their presence in the area could have sent a message to NATO: A message that they were bombing a Pakistani post.

So, please do not insult the sacrifice of your soldiers. Do not tell us that you lost your “communication” when they needed you the most. This defense of your ineptitude certainly is not very reassuring to your troops and makes you look pathetically stupid and unprofessional. And know that this country belongs to its people and you are nothing more than the servants of your people: they pay for your privilege by sacrificing their own future. The people deserve an answer worthy of the trust they have placed in you: stop acting like bad politicians and answer our questions like good soldiers and servants of your nation.

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Aid Wars: US-Pakistan and Politics of Coercion

In a latest move, the US government has decided to  suspend $800 million military aid to Pakistan. It is fairly obvious that grounds for this had already been smoothed by the powers that be: The recent statements by senior US military officers about involvement of ISI in the murder of Syed Saleem Shahzad, it seems, was the tipping point of war of words and silence that has been going on between the two allies. Another reason being given for this drastic step is   “the Pakistani army’s decision to significantly reduce the number of visas for U.S. military trainers” (Douglass Birch, AP).

It is also being suggested that the US wants the Pakistan army to launch a major offensive in the tribal regions to ease pressure on the US forces across the border in Afghanistan. Those of you who have read my recent public writings know that I am not really a fan of the Pakistan army brass, but in this situation I agree with General Kiyani’s suggestion that “the aid should be diverted to civilian institutions.” This means that while General Kiyani is not willing to kowtow to the American policy makers, he understands the importance of this aid and would rather still have it delivered to the civilian government of Pakistan.

In fact, this could be a very important step for the US. By diverting this aid to the civilian administration, the US can convey its displeasure to the Pakistan army–whatever their reasons–without hurting the general Pakistani population. Let us not forget that there is a popular myth in Pakistan about the fickleness of US friendship: we tell stories–some true some pure legend–of how America betrayed us time and time again. This step would only enhance the level of distrust of the US by the Pakistani public.

The same report that I cited above also suggests that Pakistan, it seems, has not been doing enough in the war on terror. Let us not forget that both Pakistani civilians and military personnel have sacrificed heavily during this unending war. As I wrote a few months ago, the losses have been great. Here are some of the figures as provided to me by some very reliable sources within the Pakistan army:

  • There were 118 drone strikes in 2010 claiming 1127 lives of which 680 are believed to be those of civilian bystanders.
  • As of January 2011, Pakistan has lost 2740 soldiers while 8500 of them have been wounded in action.
  • According to very conservative estimates about 5800 civilian were killed during 2010 due to terrorist actions.
  • Total civilian casualties in Pakistan since 9/11 have now exceeded 36,000.

These are some of the figures of what has befallen Pakistan since the beginning of this unending war. The intangible factors are beyond just these figures that include destruction of infrastructure, loss of productivity, and simple increase in public fear of terroristic attacks and reprisals.

So, those who claim Pakistan has not done enough should get off their proverbial, prejudiced behinds and look at the situation more carefully. This is no way of treating an ally: one simply does not kick one’s friends when they are down. The US policymakers need to realize that using Pakistan as their whipping boy to buttress their domestic political agendas is not good policy and may come to harm US interests in the long run. On a simple level, I would suggest that instead of playing this game of coercive power politics, try to develop a serious, equal, and lasting relationship with Pakistan.

Yes, there will be policy differences between the two nations: Pakistan, after all, is a sovereign nation and, thankfully, not a US colony. It is time the US government realized that politics of coercion will not work, but a serious attempt at helping Pakistan develop its civilian infrastructures might help the US in the long run.

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Democratic Society and Importance of Criticism

Lately, I have focused extensively on offering public criticism of some powerful institutions both inside Pakistan and United States. Of course, no one asked me for it, but as someone invested in issues of democracy and social justice, I find it apt to share my views and insert my voice in the public debates about contemporary issues. I am, however, not a journalist; I am a literary and cultural critic by training and a public scholar by choice.

There is an important moment in the famous Foucault-Deleuze interview, where Foucault insists that the role of the intellectual, and I am paraphrasing here, is to provide a persistent and relentless critique of power. Power, for both Foucault and Deleuze, is not hierarchical as envisioned in the classical Marxist tradition but rather more “diffuse” ever-present around us. We all are, in one degree or another, caught up in this web of power, a web that does not give us a chance at reaching outside or the other side of power. Our existence, in a way, is always discursive.

So, when I criticize power from within my discursive space as an intellectual, I am within the fold of power myself, but my puny voice, it seems, still baffles those invested in normative drive of power, for they retaliate in so many subtle and unsubtle ways. Those using  subtle ways suggest that I am, somehow, a “disgruntled” former military officer trying to take a swipe at the mighty Pakistan army; the less subtle ones have informed me that my long hair and my life in the US, somehow, disqualifies me to be a critic of power in Pakistan. And this is being implied when all the powerful institutions in Pakistan–civil and military–are in the most intimate relationship with powers that be in the United States.

In the last few weeks, I have written a criticism of Israel, an indictment of Pakistan Army, a self-reflection on my Army career, and an introductory entry to an important Jewish peace organization. These entities sometimes do not have much in common but the only way I can plot a connection amongst them is by my views of power and its impact on our lives. My critique, of course, is narrow and often not very detailed: it does not need to be, for it is these little cuts, these small ruptures in the armor of power that matter the most. I think this is what Foucault meant by the term “persistent critique” of power: not a giant heroic blow but these small cuts and swipes to unsettle power, to make it stop to lick a thousand tiny wounds, to stop it from normalizing itself, from becoming natural.

The response has been mixed: quite a few young and hopeful readers have added their voices to mine and given me their strength: I see a rhizome in the making. But the minions of power, ever so gently, have also responded with their rationalizations and ad hominem attacks. It is almost comical: like an elephant responding to a bee sting. But then that is the problem with power: it must totalize itself to become normative and our small acts of defiance hinder that process.

These small instances of criticism are crucial to develop a more humane and responsive system of life and governance. These “micro-resistances” (Deleuze) are important just as it is important to squash those micro-fascist tendencies in our minds that force us to respect power and those who wield it.

So, in all humility, I offer my gratitude to all those who find some merit in my public writings, and to all those who are flustered and disturbed by them, I say: Peace!!!

Remember, we are a swarm and we are many!!!

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For Pakistani Military a Hard Choice: Complicity or Incompetence

Soon after the US “invasion” of Abbottabad and elimination of Osama bin Laden, Pakistan army has been caught with its proverbial, heavy-booted foot in the mouth. Were they a part of the Operation? Nobody knows! So, if this was a solo US mission then what were our overfed intelligence agencies doing for the last ten years? How could they miss a fortified mansion right next to the Pakistan Military Academy. I mean it is a fortress; look at it:

 

So, let us believe for a moment that they missed it: it happens some times. But how could they have missed it for ten years? weren’t they looking for him all this time?

Even more pathetic is the excuses being offered for not having detected TWO ATTACK HELICOPTERS flying over Pakistani territory for over an hour to reach their target. So, they cannot find a target in their own country and also do not have the capacity to ascertain the presence of two foreign helicopters flying across their territory.

So, here is the million dollar question: Are they simply incompetent? Or yet another: Were they hiding OBL? And yet another: were they part of the operation but are too afraid to make it public.

I guess it is time some hard questions are asked of our generals. What have they been doing with the money that our nation has sacrificed for them by selling our children’s future and what have they been doing with the money given to them by the US? I mean how much money does it take to have a competent intelligence agency that can either find the most wanted man in the world or can, at least, track two “hostile” helicopters flying over their territory.

I am not sure if they were complicit with the US or OBL, but of their incompetence I have become quite certain.

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A Shameful Foreign Policy: Deploying Pakistani Troops In Bahrain

The news trickling out of Pakistan suggest that Pakistan is seriously considering deploying Pakistan Army to aid the dictators of Bahrain against their own people. This, obviously, is a humiliating and troubling turn in Pakistani foreign policy: it will put us on the wrong side of history and make our army into a mercenary force for hire by powerful tyrants.

Reportedly, the  foreign minister of Bahrain, Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa, is visiting Pakistan to sort out the details. The Saudis, it is reported, have also put pressure on Pakistan and promised financial help or Pakistan in return for “lending” their troops to put down the popular uprising in Bahrain. It is also being argued that there are more than 30, 000 Pakistani workers in Bahrain and it is, therefore, in Pakistan’s interest to stabilize the regime there.

Yes, we know Pakistani economy is in trouble and we know Pakistan relies heavily on Saudi aid, but does that mean Pakistan’s army is available to rent for all non-democratic, non-representative, authoritarian regimes in the Middle East? The people of Bahrain have risen against their government: it is their right to do so. They are asking for equality, nondiscrimination, and equal rights for the Shia majority: that is their right, too.

The entire Middle East is in a democratic furor; we should not be the people who stand against this tide. Our army should not side with the tyrants and dictators and if they do so then it would be a sad and shame-filled episode in the history of Pakistan. We cannot even plead that the army has no say in the matter: they always have a say in political matters. If the Pakistan army deploys to Bahrain, it means the army leadership went along with the government’s decision, for they do not have a spectacular history of following the mandates of popularly elected governments if the don’t want to.

This is where the media and people of Pakistan must assert themselves: we must insist that our army shall not become a mercenary force deployed to support the petty dictators in the Middle East. No honorable military force will accept such a mission, nor would a democratically elected government, no matter what the size of the proverbial carrot offered by the Saudis, become a party to supporting dictatorship against the will of the people.

So, let us hope our leaders–military and civilian–will pause a little before committing Pakistan to the wrong and shameful side of history.

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South Waziristan: Operational Analysis

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This map modified from The Nation, Pakistan

Those of you not familiar with the area and the operational strategy of the Pakistan army may benefit from this brief operational analysis.
The Pakistan army is conducting Advance-to-Contact operations on three axes:

  • East: Jandola-Kotkai-Sararogha axis.
  • South-West: Wana-Shakai axis
  • North: Razmak-Makeen-Sararogha axis.

The purpose of an Advance-to-Contact operation  always is to move into the hostile territory, seek resistance, clear it, and then consolidate cleared ground. All these actions are meant to enable the reduction of the ultimate  ‘enemy’ position: Sararogha.

The three advancing columns should eventually link up around Sararogha, and, having cleared and consolidated the three major approaches to the area, the final battle will then be fought for the capture of Sararogha, the Taliban strong-point.

At this point, one can say that this is a brilliantly conceived operation and is progressing quite well toward its final tactical objective. Since the troops are establishing posts of captured heights, one could surmise that this operation is aimed wresting control of the area from the TTP (Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan) and not just a show of force. Once could also assume that the operation will continue as the popular will is in favor of the military action.

What the United States Must Do:

  • First of all, start insinuating in the policy statements that the Pakistan Army has undertaken this operation under pressure from the US. This might gain some political points for the current US administration, but will end up eroding the popular support for the Pakistan army.
  • It is crucial at this time for the US to provide necessary equipment to the Pakistan army without any strings attached. The Pakistan army could use more of these: helicopter gunships, communication interception equipment, IED detection and clearing equipment.
  • Also, massive aid will be needed to provide for the people displaced due to the military operation.
    refugees0
    The Internally Displaced

    (Another good resource on the Waziristan offesnive).

I will continue writing on this. For any further questions, feel free to comment  and I will be happy to provide more details.